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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Parents may be less willing to shell out the cash to help their child buy a car if that child is overweight or obese, new research shows.
The findings provide yet more evidence that heavier people face discrimination on many fronts, Amanda Kraha and Dr. Adriel Boals of the University of North Texas in Denton conclude in their report.
"No one is going to be surprised that society discriminates against the overweight, but I think it is surprising that it can come from your parents," Boals told Reuters Health.
More than two-thirds of US adults are overweight or obese, Boals and Kraha note in the journal Obesity, and heavier people are known to face discrimination on the job, at school, and in their relationships. There's also evidence, they add, that negative psychological consequences associated with overweight and obesity, such as depression and low self-esteem, could be a consequence of this type of prejudice.
Studies have shown that parents are less likely to help overweight or obese offspring pay for college, the researchers note. "Similar to college tuition, purchasing a car during the college years is a major expense and investment that parents can choose to provide assistance with or not," they add.
To investigate whether a similar pattern would be seen in terms of family assistance with car purchase and weight status, the researchers surveyed 379 college students 17 to 26 years old, 30 percent of whom were men.
Students who bought their own cars had a higher average body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height) than people who got help from Mom and Dad. They had a BMI of 25, on average, compared to about 23 for those who received family assistance. A BMI above 25 is considered overweight; above 30, obese.
Among the 82 students who purchased their cars themselves (roughly 20 percent of the group), 39 percent were overweight or obese, compared to about 18 percent of the 297 students who got help from their family.
Gender and family income did not explain the relationship between BMI and financial help; nor did whether or not a child engaged in risky behavior.
"There are a number of very viable explanations here," Boals said. "One could just be from an evolutionary standpoint; parents may be less likely to invest resources in offspring they believe are unfit," meaning less likely to pass along the family genes to the next generation. Or, he added, parents' behavior might just reflect the tendency in general for people to discriminate against heavier individuals. "I don't think the parents are doing this knowingly," he said.
"The study is well executed and it is convincing: college students who were overweight were less likely to have family support for an automobile purchase, regardless of the family's financial status or whether they were male or female," Dr. Donna Ryan, an obesity expert and professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters Health. "So, my interpretation is that weight bias is once again at play."
Ryan added: "Overweight and obese people face many hurdles from childhood and up -- they are less likely to marry, earn less educational attainment and are more likely to earn lower salaries than their normal weight counterparts. This is yet one more example of the discrimination they suffer."
SOURCE: link.reuters.com/faq25p Obesity, published online September 9, 2010.